This piece originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.
If you are like most people, you probably believe you already know what a brand is and perhaps think it has nothing to do with you.
Sure, big companies like McDonalds, Lexus and Coca Cola have big brands. Everyone knows that.
But pause for a moment and think about your favorite mom-and-pop restaurant, your preferred dry cleaners, or even your doctor.
Why do you go to those particular places for what you want? In those cases, you’re not shopping price, you’re shopping something else. Something intangible. Something called “brand”. It is not only about how good the food is or how fast they clean your clothes. It is a feeling you get when you go there.
The feeling may be that you are special; that you are a valued customer; that you believe they know you or actually care about you. Maybe they do.
Does your business give customers the “right” feeling? Curiously, what you think brings in your customers may be wrong. It is the customer’s truth that matters most. I prefer a certain coffee shop because I like the morning sunlight in their open, airy dining room and their iced tea is good. But I agree with the other regulars: their food is pretty bad. Yet when I asked the owner, he assured me that his place is popular because of his great food.
It is crucial that you not only know the elements that make up your brand, but find ways to convey your unique brand identity in ways that will attract more customers who want what you’ve got.
To figure that out for your business, reflect on these questions, and then poll them. Good brand awareness makes good sense.
What do people hear?
- Is there a voice or music that starts playing as soon as they hit your landing page? Could it be turning people off? Personally, I will leave any site that immediately gets noisy.
- Is there music in your business that attracts a certain age group? Does it repel another?
- When a prospect calls, are there dogs, kids, TVs, shouting, etc. going on in the background? If you aren’t in the business of pet grooming, daycare, television sales or marriage counseling (smile), these sounds shouldn’t be heard.
- Do you have annoying hold music? Or none at all? Or the kind that makes people feel anxious, even if it is your favorite song?
- Is it loud while they are in your place, when more customers might want quiet, or vice versa? Everyone has left a restaurant because it was too loud or too quiet. Make sure your noise level matches the brand reputation you want to build.
Read more from Fortune: 5 Branding Secrets From the Golf Brothers Dominating Social Media
What do people see?
- Is your website some hokey, outdated template from two years ago that doesn’t help customers get where they need to go with minimal fuss?
- Are you using unpopular colors on your site, your walls, or your uniforms? Each country, each region has color preferences. Look them up online if you don’t know yours. It’s not about you, it’s about the people you are trying to attract.
- Is your storefront appealing or messy? What’s the first thing people see when they step into your place of business?
- Is the first employee a customer sees unappealing in any way, texting on their phone, or otherwise a turn off to your customer?
- Is your place dark? If it’s not a tavern or a night club or a swanky restaurant, you are losing business if it is dark in your shop. The online equivalent is websites with black backgrounds and white words. (There are some exceptions). Note that the grocery store in town doing the most business is the one with the best lighting. This isn’t an accident.
What do people taste?
- You make think this sense applies only to places that serve food, but it doesn’t. Surprisingly, there are many ways to make sure your wares “taste” right to the customer.
- Obviously, is your food appealing? A group of researchers filled three bottles with the same tap water.Two bottles had the big brand labels. They affixed a made-up label to the third.Then they asked people to sip their usual brand, then try the “new” brand. Most taste testers were able to identify multiple differences between “their” brand and the new water. But all three bottles contained the same water!It is the brand positioning that determined the customer response, not the water itself.
- Is your place of business in “good taste”? Everyone has seen calendars of women in bikinis on the wall of an auto repair shop, but is that making any of the customers uncomfortable? If your office furniture is a mishmash of second hand stuff, your desk is a mountain of clutter and old coffee cups, or your space is crammed with dusty old stuffed animals or your beloved collection of Barbie dolls, would you guess that the majority of customers and prospects see that as being “in good taste”? Probably not. Does your furniture belong to a prosperous business or one hanging on by the tips of its fingernails?
- Do people walk away from a customer service interaction with you or your team with a “good taste in their mouth”?
What do people smell?
- There’s a lot of research into smells and how they unconsciously affect customers. That’s why you can smell McDonald’s fries blocks away. That’s why when you walk into certain stores in the mall, you smell a specific scent. Is there a scent you could subtly share near your entrance to anchor that into your customers’ minds? Our olfactory sense – the sense of smell – is thought to be one of the most primal and the most memorable.
- Naturally, it is important customers don’t smell anything unpleasant. Like that garlic pizza box you stuffed in your desk drawer…last week. Or the banana peel in your trash. It seems such a small thing, but you have the opportunity to control the entire customer experience, so you may as well make it optimal. At the very least, get a bottle of Febreeze.
- People who do not have pets or who do not like a certain type of animal (or have allergies) can immediately smell an animal in someone’s office. Unless you are a vet or a groomer, it is probably a good idea to make sure that your pet is bathed regularly, its bedding in the office is washed often and careful attention is paid to any “accidents”.
Read more from Fortune: 3 Branding Tips From the Man Who Helped Create Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ Campaign
What do people feel?
- Is your place grungy or dirty? Are your restrooms? Women usually notice this stuff. Once, I was lying in a hospital bed watching an orderly “mop” my room, but he was just swishing debris around with a rag mop. He didn’t cover even 30% of the surface. No one I care about will ever use that hospital again. If customers feel like they have to go take a shower after being in your establishment, you’ve got a problem.
- Do people feel like you’re glad they are there or like you’re an imposition?
- Does your sales pitch make them feel slimed?
- When the minimum wage clerk you hired mumbles “MayIhelpyou?”, do you really think that is engaging the customer and making them feel welcome?
- When it takes you 48+ hours to respond to an email, or an online inquiry, or a complaint – does that make the customer feel valued?
- Do you feel like your doctor – who has seen more of your body than most people – would recognize you if you approached him or her in a public place? Would you recognize your customers, even your best ones? The more special you can make your customers feel, the more loyal they will feel toward your business.
- When they leave your place of business or your website, what feeling do they experience? Are they smiling or running for their car?
- If you sell online, does your relentless, thoughtless, overwhelming follow up sequence make them feel like they got their lips wrapped around a fire hose inadvertently? Your opt-outs will answer this question.
The “five senses check” is a good idea to run your business through twice a year, so you can be sure what you’re doing is aligning with the brand you are trying to establish. Consistent, positive, reliable, repeatable brand interaction is a key component in any business’ success. To find out more about your brand and how you can build it, click here to come to a free online interactive round table.